Last month’s news that Sporty’s Pub and Grill would close at the end of June sparked reactions from many loyal customers, in part due to connections they’ve developed with staff.
Deanna Baxter, who ran karaoke at Sporty’s for almost seven years before its closing on June 30, said her phone has filled up with new contacts and friends since she started at the bar. Baxter, by her own account, isn’t someone who likes to stand behind her equipment and not interact with patrons.
“That's just my personality; I want to interact with everybody,” Baxter said.
With a thick songbook covering multiple genres, karaoke nights have built up their own regular attendees. They’ve also created lasting relationships. Baxter introduced two couples at Sporty’s, she said, and some of the staff and patrons even call her mom.
“I view her like a second mom,” said karaoke regular Shane Sheridan. “She’s my karaoke mom, that’s what I call her.”
Every Wednesday and Friday, Baxter hosted karaoke at Sporty’s, adding in games like roulette karaoke and jackpot karaoke. She also took her own turns at the microphone to keep the audience interested.
“She's always trying to encourage people to sing — even those that are shy, or those who maybe haven't sung before,” said former Sporty’s bartender and server Seth Hynes-Marquette. “And she understands that when the staff gets involved, the audience gets involved, too.”
Singing in front of strangers can be intimidating, but Baxter said she tried to help people see how much fun it can be. Former University of Minnesota student Grace Baldwin said Sporty’s was a good place to meet up with friends and sing karaoke.
“It's just fun to put yourself out there. There's not even people necessarily listening and judging everything you do,” Baldwin said. “It's just a good time to have a good night, express yourself. Put on a song you love and be with your pals.”
Staff and customers sometimes call Baxter “Dee” or “Mama Dee.” Others confide in her about their lives. Baxter said that’s the type of close connection she has built with those in the neighborhood.
“That means you left your mark, you made an impression with them,” Baxter said. “So it’s nice to know that you are welcome.”
Baxter, who also DJs and hosts karaoke at other events, said the weeks leading up to Sporty’s closure were somber.
But this isn’t the end of Baxter’s time in Como. Como Tap is expected to open in Sporty’s former location in August, where she will continue to do karaoke on the same nights.
“A lot of people call this place home — or called this place home — because of her, and I think it would be a mistake not to invite her back,” Sheridan said.